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Friday, May 02, 2014

Summer fiction, and a few non-fiction, recommendations

 No matter how much we all enjoy grading, I am guessing everyone is excited to clear up the table and set some time aside for leisurely reading. I would love to get recommendations for awesome fun fiction, and I thought I would offer some of my own. My bedside table has an enormous pile which I can’t wait to get to.

 First off, the last book I read: As some of you know, my favorite genre in fiction is the academic novel, set on campus and embracing faculty psychology as it’s raw material. So, in the best of this tradition, is Bernard Malamud’s A New Life, I just finished last week (while grading). It’s a less known novel of Malamud, but those who have read it seem to agree that it’s his most personal and likely funniest tale. Malamud was an English professor in Oregon for many years and A New Life tells the story of Levin, a Jewish New Yorker who moves West for a teaching job. In Malamud’s subdued style, Levin’s Jewishness is actually not mentioned by name till one of the very last pages, page 361, and even then as an indirect reference. Levin’s otherness is more complex than his Jewishness: he is an Easterner in the West, Single among married faculty, dark and bearded, liberal and naïve about university politics, a non-driver who is physically weak and has never ever went fishing or hunting. Levin is in for some disillusionment. And yet, the book is compassionate about all us prawfs out there trying to find meaning and balance in our various roles as teachers, scholars, institutional leaders, family members. There isn’t one right way for a new life.

The book in its setting very much reminded me of one of my favorite books ever, John Williams’ Stoner, which I think of as the perfect book (that term was also used to describe Stoner by one of my favorite law professors and friends in the world, Menny Mautner (TAU)). One day, besides writing my own academic novel, I plan to write an essay about Stoner and its counterparts.

 And now for books I am planning to read next:

My daughter is going to be Mary Cassatt at an upcoming biography fair so I picked up this new novel. I Always Loved You by Robin Oliveira: the setting is chewed up but also never tires if done right: Belle Époque Paris. Young Mary Cassatt dreams to become a famous painter and drools over Degas’ paintings, then over Degas himself. I read through the first couple of chapters and so far the writing is a bit formulaic and banal. I am hoping it gets stronger. Last summer I read The Paris Wife about young Hemingway’s literary beginnings and I thought that one was very well done, thought the biographical details had mostly all been told before.

 Kingsley Amis, Lucky Jim: finally getting to that one, which comes highly recommended by several friends who share my passion for academic fiction.

 Orhan Pamuk, Snow, just bought it on a whim: “A Turkish poet who spent 12 years as a political exile in Germany witnesses firsthand the clash between radical Islam and Western ideals in this enigmatically beautiful novel.  Touching, slyly comic, and humming with cerebral suspense, Snow is of immense relevance to our present moment.”

 Some non-fiction too:


I am biased about these next two but trust me they are terrific:

 Thalma Lobel, Sensation: The New Science of Physical Intelligence. That’s right, we share the same last name...my mom’s new book, which came out last week (Simon & Schuster) is a sensation! “Color and temperature, darkness and light, rough and smooth textures—all these sensations influence your inner world and your actions with unexpected power. In Sensation, one of the world’s leading experts on human behavior, Dr. Thalma Lobel, shares an exciting, completely new view of physical intelligence, or embodied cognition. She reveals that physical experiences unconsciously affect your everyday decisions and choices—with profound implications for your everyday life.” yep - it's powerful! 

 Uri Gneezy & John List, The Why Axis: Hidden Motives and the Undiscovered Economics of Everyday Life. Came out a few months ago, same time as my own book, Talent Wants to Be Free, and “from sultry northern India to the chilly streets of Chicago; from the playgrounds of schools in Israel to the boardrooms of some of the world’s largest corporations”,  its all about incentives. We all care about those, don’t we?

And, Thomas Picketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, is on my bookshelf too. we’ve all read the reviews and it’s so so long, still, my good friend and colleague Frank Partnoy (USD), author of Wait, The Match King and Greed, says it’s worth reading the real thing. 

Yuval Harari, A Brief History of Humanity: I apologise for this one because its only available, thus far, for Hebrew speakers. But it’s awesome – I am almost two thirds through and I love it. tens of thousands of years condensed into smart, if sometimes watered down observations by a history professor at Hebrew university.

 And so – the previous book nudged me to finally get to reading Jared Diamond, Guns, Steel and Germs, which has been waiting for a while at the bottom of my pile.

Posted by Orly Lobel on May 2, 2014 at 02:48 PM | Permalink


I read Stoner last Summer. I also recommend Williams' Butcher's Crossing, as the revisionist Western, perhaps better than Oakley Hall's Warlock. I obtained the new LoA's collection of Malamud and plan to go through it, perhaps starting with your recommendation. Thanks!

Posted by: Shubha Ghosh | May 22, 2014 3:44:00 AM

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